Messages Hidden in Bird Calls or Music Could Be Used to Hijack Your Voice Assistant

iStock.com/Petmal
iStock.com/Petmal

Virtual assistants are supposed to make our lives easier, but a disturbing new revelation shows how they could be used for evil. In what sounds like a Black Mirror episode, Fast Company notes that hackers could theoretically disguise commands as ordinary sounds—like a bird’s chirps or music—and broadcast them across apps or TV commercials. These messages, while imperceptible to human ears, would be specially coded so that a virtual assistant like Alexa or Cortana could pick up on them and act accordingly.

This discovery comes from scientists at Germany’s Ruhr-University Bochum, who have been studying “adversarial attacks.” These “optical illusions for machines,” as non-profit research company OpenAI puts it, occur when the information fed into a machine learning system is designed to confuse it and produce an error.

According to researchers, hackers could hide messages in songs, speech, or other sounds that only a voice assistant could “hear.” This could result in unauthorized purchases being made or private information being compromised. Consider the following clip, for example.

The audio sounds a bit off, but the hidden message—“deactivate security camera and unlock front door”—is impossible to understand, according to an experiment involving 22 test subjects. After listening to the commands, none of the listeners were able to understand or transcribe what was said. This discovery and other findings led the researchers to conclude, “in general, it is possible to hide any target transcription within any audio file" [PDF].

This isn’t the first time privacy and information security concerns have surfaced in regard to voice assistants. A study last year found that Alexa could pick up on “whisper” commands that fell outside the range of human hearing. And last May, Alexa recorded an Oregon woman’s private conversations with her husband and randomly sent them to one of her contacts in Seattle. Fortunately, they were only talking about hardwood floors, but Alexa still got the boot.

Amazon told Co.Design that the company is looking into researchers' latest findings. Until then, you might not want to trust your voice assistant with your most sensitive information or darkest secrets.

[h/t Fast Company]

7 Massage Guns That Are on Sale Right Now

Jawku/Actigun
Jawku/Actigun

Outdoor exercise is a big focus leading into summer, but as you begin to really tone and strengthen your muscles, you might notice some tough knots and soreness that you just can’t kick. Enter the post-workout massage gun—these bad boys are like having a deep-tissue masseuse by your side whenever you want. If you're looking to pick one up for yourself, check out these brands while they’re on sale.

1. Actigun 2.0: Percussion Massager (Black); $128 (57 percent off)

Actigun massage gun.
Actigun

Don't assume you need a professional masseur to provide relief—this massage gun offers 20 variable speeds and can adjust the output power on its own according to pressure. Can your human massage therapist do that?

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

2. JAWKU Muscle Blaster V2 Cordless Percussion Massage Gun; $260 (13 percent off)

Jawku massaging gun.
Jawku

This cordless, five-speed massager uses a design that's aimed to increase blood flow, release stored lactic acid, and relieve sore muscles through various vibrations.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

3. DEEP4s: Percussive Therapy Massage Gun for Athletes; $230 (23 percent off)

Re-Athlete massage gun.
Re-Athlete

Instant relief is an option with this massage tool, featuring five different attachments made to tackle any muscle group. You can squeeze in eight hours of massage time before you have to charge it again.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

4. Handheld Massage Gun for Deep Tissue Percussion; $75 (15 percent off)

Massage gun from Stackcommerce.
Stackcommerce

With five replaceable heads and six speed settings, this massage gun can easily adapt to the location and intensity of your soreness. And since it lasts up to three hours per charge, you won't have to worry about constantly plugging it in.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

5. The Backmate Power Massager; $120 (19 percent off)

Backmate massage gun.
Backmate

Speed is the name of the game here. The Backmate Power Massager is designed for fast, effective relief through its ergonomic design. Fast doesn’t need to mean short, either. After the instant relief, you can stimulate and distract your nervous system for lasting pain relief.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

6. ZTECH Percussion Massage Gun (Red); $80 (46 percent off)

ZTech massage gun.
ZTech

This massage gun looks a lot like a power drill, and, similarly, you can adjust its design for the perfect fit with six interchangeable heads that target different muscle areas.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

7. Aduro Sport Elite Recovery Massage Gun (Maroon); $80 (60 percent off)

Aduro massage gun.
Aduro

Tackle large muscle groups, the neck, Achilles tendon, joints, and small muscle areas with this single massage gun. Four massage heads and six intensity levels allow this tool to provide a highly customizable experience.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.


Fiona the Hippo Is Now on Cameo

Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Fiona the Hippo has earned her status as a celebrity. Born prematurely and weighing just 29 pounds in 2017, she became a sensation when she beat the odds and survived. Now, the Cincinnati Zoo's most beloved resident is taking her famous mug to Cameo.

Cameo is a service that allows fans to pay for personalized video messages from various celebrities. Most celebrities on the website are people, but that hasn't stopped Fiona from offering her star presence to the public.

For $100, you can request a custom video from the Cincinnati Zoo starring Fiona. A zoo staff member will recite the message while filming Fiona being adorable in her enclosure. One example video shows Fiona hanging out with her mom and snacking on some lettuce while her caretaker wishes the recipient a happy birthday.

Animal lovers who pay for a Cameo from Fiona will be supporting a good cause, too. Proceeds from the purchase will go to the Cincinnati Zoo, which is currently operating at limited capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have a Cameo account, you can request your own video message for $100 here.

This isn't the first time the Cincinnati Zoo has used Fiona's popularity as a fundraising tool. Earlier this year, the zoo started selling the dung left behind by Fiona and other animals as garden fertilizer.